The Good, the Bad, and the Fees.

Tuition fees are just one of the current victims of our much vaunted ‘swingeing cuts’;and are sure to ignite impassioned discussion amongst varied groups. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not quite sure exactly where I stand on the subject. Sure, my blood boils when I see the current crop of privately educated, wealthy politicians who enjoyed generous grants inflicting vast amounts of debt on the current generation of students; but at the same time I recognise that higher education, whether subsidised or otherwise, is not a right, but is a privilege.

I’ve had the privilege to attend university for undergraduate and postgraduate study, and I certainly have the debts to accompany it. I would advocate university to anyone; I had some of my best and most valuable experiences during my time at university. But I appreciate how daunting debts running into the tens of thousands must appear to prospective students.

I’ll also be honest and say that I don’t fully understand the numbers (I didn’t study maths at university for a reason). But as it has been explained to me, universities are in the main charging the maximum, or as close to the maximum £9000 limit as possible for two crucial reasons; the actual reduction in government funding, and the predicted drop in student numbers. Combined, this leaves little other way for universities to cover the cost of delivering a degree.

The ‘bad’ I am referring to in this post’s title is the negative publicity problem this has created for universities. Leeds Metropolitan University, where I took my Masters degree, this week announced their intention to charge fees of £8500 per year. Leeds Met has built a strong reputation on widening participation and of traditionally charging lower fees. As the first of the ‘newer’ universities to announce this news, they’ve taken a good amount of flak as a result and face something of a battle to justify the cost. The below the line comments on this Times Higher Education article are scathing to say the very least.

The ‘good’ I am referring to, is the devilishly good PR move executed by the coalition government. By leaving little other option than to raise fees, the government has effectively managed to deflect blame to individual institutions, and shift the focus away from themselves. Forcing the hand of universities this way, means we tend to blame the announcing institution and it is the institution that becomes the object of our ire.

So, as much as I hate to congratulate David Cameron and co, they seem to have their PR machine pretty well oiled this time.

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